Christmas Eve Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on December 24, 2014
Anyone who’s ever sat on Santa’s lap knows that expectations don’t always mesh with reality. As a case in point, I’m still waiting for that go-cart I asked for in 1976. My expectations did not mesh with Santa’s reality.
When it comes to Christmas, we so often set high expectations for ourselves and those around us. We want the perfect tree, the perfect dinner, the perfect family, the perfect gift. And so often our expectations don’t mesh with the reality. You didn’t notice that giant bald spot on the tree when you picked it out at Lambert’s, the Christmas goose was overcooked, you can put your entire family in matching pajamas but it still doesn’t mask the dysfunction, and not only is that tie ugly — you don’t even wear them! The hard truth of reality often comes crashing down upon our unrealistic seasonal expectations. How’s that for a Christmas Eve buzzkill?
But maybe we’re just placing our expectations in the wrong…Christmas tree stand. Perhaps we need to rethink and reframe our expectations. Expectation is certainly a major theme on Christmas Eve. Mary was expecting a baby, of course. And after hearing that this child would be destined for great things, she certainly must have had expectations about how that would play out; about what this child would grow up to be and accomplish. Expectant parents, especially first time ones, are enamored with possibility.
And Mary got an extra jolt of this when the angel Gabriel showed up to tell her a little something about this child she was carrying: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Talk about setting some high expectations! And as Mary wondered about how this would all unfold and pondered the possibilities in her heart, I doubt she anticipated her child would one day be strung up on a cross like a common criminal. Surely that didn’t mesh with the vision of her child being set upon a throne to rule a kingdom of which there would be no end.
And so, yes, this night is about expectations fulfilled. It’s about ancient prophecies coming to fruition. It’s about hope being realized. The catch is that Christmas is not about our expectations, but rather God’s. And that goes for both Mary and for you and me.
On Christmas, yes, “Christ the Savior is born” as we will soon be singing by candlelight. Yet this Savior came into the world to show us the love of God in a new way, an unexpected way, a way that would move from manger to cross to resurrection. Not the way we would have expected but a stunning demonstration of God’s love for you and all of humanity.
And once we let go of our own expectations, we can enter into a reality that we could hardly have even asked for or imagined. And we realize that there certainly is such a thing as Christmas magic — anyone who’s ever experienced a young child dancing with glee on Christmas morning has experienced it. Or seen a heart moved to help someone in need during this season. That’s part of the expectation. But as we mature we also realize that God isn’t a magician, that Jesus doesn’t wave a magic wand to make all your dreams come true. Sometimes we don’t get the go-cart.
The reality is that the world in which we live can be a hard place. In the last few weeks alone we’ve been confronted with the effects of racism and terrorism and unspeakable violence both at home and abroad. And it’s tempting to hunker down in our homes with the nice white candles in the windows, drink some egg nog, and allow those visions of sugar plums to dance in our heads.
But if we’re honest, we’re left to wonder “Where is God in all of this?” When so many are hurting in our world, a “silent night” doesn’t seem to do justice to the pain. Yet it is precisely into this world that Jesus comes; into the mud and muck of the stable, not a sterile movie set gleaming with fake snow. Jesus entered into the reality of a sinful and broken world — that’s what he came to redeem and save. The Light of Christ shines ever brighter amid the darkness.
So whatever our expectations were, what we receive through the gift of Christ’s incarnation, of God entering the world in human form, is so much greater. We receive the divine presence in our lives. In times of joy and in times of sorrow; in times of elation and in times of grief. Through it all, God is with us. Rejoicing when we rejoice, weeping when we weep. That’s the miracle of Christmas. That’s the source of our deep joy. That’s the fulfillment of hope. That’s the realization of expectations.
On this night, may you experience the gift of God’s saving grace, may your expectations mesh with the reality of God’s love for you, and may you all have a very Merry Christmas.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck